I admit it. I peek. When everyone else’s heads are bowed and eyes are closed during corporate prayer, I’m the one with my head up scanning the crowd. I just love to catch a glimpse of my entire church family praying together.
But sometimes, it makes me wonder . . .
- Why do we close our eyes and bow our heads when we pray?
- Why do we (or don’t we) raise our hands when we sing worship songs?
- Why do we get so sad-faced during Communion?
Are these postures that the Lord calls us to in His Word, or are they simply rooted in tradition? What does God want us to do with our bodies during spiritual practices like prayer and worship? Does He care?
Do you ever wonder about these things too? Let’s look at God’s Word together and examine what the Bible really says about how we should pray.
Ready? Now, everyone bow your heads and close your eyes . . . (Just kidding! How would you read the post that way, silly?)
Have you ever been in a church service where the pastor said, “Would everyone please bow your heads to pray”? Or have you ever heard someone ask for “every head bowed and every eye closed”? Do you close your eyes during private prayer?
You might be surprised to know that the Bible doesn’t mention praying with our eyes closed. Here are some prayer postures the Bible does describe.
- Kneeling to pray (1 Kings 8:54; Eph. 3:14)
- Praying while lying facedown (2 Chron. 20:18; Matt. 26:39)
- Praying while standing (1 Sam. 1:26; Mark 11:25).
- Praying with hands outstretched (1 Kings 8:54)
So, if the Bible doesn’t mention praying with eyes closed and heads bowed, why do we do it? Where did the idea to pray that way come from?
Close the Door!
Jesus gave this very specific advice about what we should do (and not do) during prayer.
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matt. 6:5–6)
Jesus says when you pray, don’t pray to get noticed. Do pray in private, seeking God’s attention alone. Go in your room and shut the door.
Does that mean you can only pray in your bedroom? Nope.
Does it mean you can only pray when a door is closed? No again.
How about public prayer? Is that a no no? Well, no (no).
The point is that prayer is between you and God, not you and the people around you. When it is not possible or practical to go in your room and close the door, you can still close your lids to block out distractions. Otherwise, if you are like me, your prayer might go something like this . . .
Jesus (I need to paint my toenails), thank You for today. (I wonder what I’m going to have for lunch.) Please forgive me for my sin. (And also, are you aware of how she sinned against me yesterday? Can you deal with her?) Please send revival. (Wow! She has a cute dress on.) What was I praying about? (I guess I’ll go paint my toes.)
Closing my eyes allows me to temporarily shut out the distractions and focus on talking to Jesus.
But what about that head bowed business?
A Posture of Humility
Jesus told this story to show us how to pray.
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9–14)
Jesus celebrated the man who prayed with his head bowed. Why? Because he took a posture of humility. He didn’t pray to prove how great he was or to impress God with his confidence and fancy words. He kept his eyes down to show his submission to a holy God.
Does that mean we always have to pray with our heads bowed? No. Scripture doesn’t take it that far. But we do need to pray from a posture of humility, acknowledging the power and holiness of God.
Four Prayer Experiments
God is more concerned with our hearts than our behavior (1 Sam. 16:7). When it comes to prayer it is less important how we position our bodies and more important how we position our hearts. Here are some questions to help you think that through:
- Do I approach God like a genie, demanding that He do what I ask?
- Do I give God my undivided focus, or am I easily distracted by lesser things?
- Do I pray to draw attention to myself or to focus my attention on God?
- Am I doing things that make prayer extra difficult, such as praying with my eyes closed during times when I am sleepy?
As you think through how you pray, here are four prayer experiments to try.
1. Try praying Scripture out loud.
This one will force you to keep your eyes open so you can read. Right now I am praying Ephesians 1 in the first person out loud every morning. Sure, I may sound a little crazy, but the birds and squirrels who are listening don’t seem to mind. Why not join me in praying Scripture out loud tomorrow morning?
2. Try praying laying facedown.
We see this posture frequently in Scripture as a posture of total humility. It communicates “I am laid flat before You, God. I have nothing to offer, but please hear me.” Jesus prayed this way in the Garden of Gethsemane before He was arrested. I usually pray this way when I am especially desperate to see God move.
3. Try praying while standing or walking.
Do you want to see God move in your family? Try walking around your house while you pray. Do you want to see Him move in your school? Prayer walk in the halls.
4. Try praying with the door closed.
Jesus encouraged us to pray in our rooms with the door closed. Is there a spot in your room that you can designate for prayer? It can be as simple as a chair or a space of cleared floor in your closet. Consider creating a prayer spot in your bedroom.
How do you like to pray? Are there any ways you can change your prayer posture to help you focus on God more while you pray?